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John Florez: Forging new consensus on immigration

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this file photo taken Nov. 11, 2010, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff signs a document known as the Utah Compact during a press conference where community leaders gathered in support of immigration reform at the State Capitol in Salt Lake City.

Brian Nicholson, Deseret News

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By his optimism and his trying to plant seeds of change, you would think Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is our own Johnny Appleseed.

Last Wednesday, Shurtleff hosted a conference, "The Mountain West summit: Forging a New Consensus on Immigrants and America." Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho discussed immigration and how to "begin to develop a common understanding of the value of immigration to the Mountain West and America." Big dream; but big dreams always start with small seeds spread by a few good people.

And, it was not surprising that it took an outsider to remind us of the virtues of how Westerners view life. National columnist Ruben Navarette, a keynote speaker at the conference, pointed out the differences of the Rust Belt States and the Mountain States. The difference — vastness — not in geography, rather in possibilities. Rust Belt States spend time talking about problems and limitations; Westerners talk about possibilities — not a smaller pie, rather an expanding one.

He also said that only in Utah did he find himself crying with others while discussing the summit the night before at a dinner with conference organizers. Without saying it, he was expressing the most fundamental belief in the Utah Compact, the human approach to immigration that "the way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors."

It was refreshing to see people coming together to talk about the benefits and challenges we face during hard times and to build upon them, rather than, as Navarette pointed out, those who think of limited resources; that if an immigrant gets a job, "it's food off my table," and "he can't win without me failing." Westerners think about the vastness of resources and opportunities.

An outsider, like Navarrete, helps us see the disconnect between the values Utahns live and what state political leaders practice. The Utah Compact is a great example and what Shurtleff is now trying to tout nationwide to fix our national immigration policies. While Utah lawmakers say they embrace those values, the policies they advance are the opposite. Utah lawmakers passed SB97 in 2008 to study the impact of immigration, including "the benefits of illegal immigrants to the state." Good public policy requires examining all sides of an issue. However, the study on benefits was never done either by the Legislature or the governor.

Shurtleff kicked off the Mountain West Summit last Wednesday because of those states' readiness to begin a "rational discussion on immigration … (and) forge a new consensus on a national immigration strategy." His vision is to start a national movement by involving other states in holding regional "Forging Consensus" conferences such as this one. Then to forge a national consensus on a rational approach to immigrants and America using the Utah Compact as a beginning point.

National politicians from both parties, including Utah's, have not had the courage to reform our immigration laws, leaving local communities to struggle. Shurtleff has demonstrated the courage to speak out and call for a humane approach to immigration as envisioned by the signers of the Utah Compact. He is not only talking about it, but also starting a grassroots movement with local leaders around the country to reform our immigration laws.

Shurtleff, much like Johnny Appleseed, and the other supporters of the conference have planted the seeds for creating a national immigration policy that sees immigrants as the vast possibilities they offer in strengthening our nation's economy. We ought to applaud them.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education.

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